New mu­si­cal drama is bold and brave

Bingo! Seen at As­sem­bly Hall, Ed­in­burgh Tour­ing un­til April 21 Ceilidh Seen at Tron The­atre, Glas­gow Tour­ing un­til March 31 Spring Awak­en­ing Seen at Royal Con­ser­va­toire of Scot­land, Glas­gow Play­ing Dundee Rep, March 22-5

Sunday Herald Life - - Theatre Reviews - Re­viewed by Mark Brown For tour dates for Bingo! visit: stel­lar­quines.com For tour dates for Ceilidh visit: the­atreg­uleor.com

MU­SI­CAL the­atre is not, for var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, Scot­tish cul­ture’s strong­est suit. Un­usu­ally, the three lat­est pro­duc­tions are two mu­si­cals and one show with a strong di­men­sion of mu­sic and song.

Bingo!, a new co-pro­duc­tion by Scot­tish women’s the­atre com­pany Stel­lar Quines and Grid Iron is a star­tlingly bold new mu­si­cal. A comic melo­drama set in a Scot­tish bingo hall, writ­ten by Anita Vettesse and Johnny McKnight, with mu­sic by Alan Pen­man, it’s like a socialist-fem­i­nist ver­sion of River City writ­ten by Stephen Sond­heim.

TV may ring to the sound of ads for male-ori­ented on­line bet­ting com­pa­nies but for two mil­lion women across the UK, bingo is still the gam­bling (and so­cial) game of choice. It’s not of­ten that the­atre of­fers us strongly-drawn, work­ing-class, fe­male char­ac­ters. Vettesse and McKnight give us five (plus male bingo hall worker Donny, played with typ­i­cally camp chutz­pah by the bril­liant Dar­ren Brown­lie).

Donny’s work col­league Betty (Jane McCarry of Still Game fame) is get­ting hitched. She, Donny and a bunch of their bingo pals are look­ing for­ward to her hen party in Las Ve­gas, or­gan­ised by travel agency worker Daniella (the al­ways im­pres­sive Louise McCarthy).

Daniella’s mother Mary (Wendy Sea­ger on su­perbly fear­some form) is the ar­che­typal grande dame of the bingo hall. Brash and larger than life, she is in very pal­pa­ble con­flict with Daniella, who, it tran­spires, has done some­thing very bad (like, RE­ALLY bad!). There will, one fears, be fire­works.

The en­su­ing drama, di­rected by Jemima Le­vick, is very much a mu­si­cal of two halves. The first act is a work of de­li­cious com­edy (for ex­am­ple, Mary, who is fill­ing two bingo books si­mul­ta­ne­ously, is “dou­ble fist­ing”).

Vettesse and McKnight’s char­ac­ters are an im­pres­sive com­bi­na­tion of comic car­toon­ish­ness and gen­uinely hu­mane pathos. This is cer­tainly true of new mum Ruth (played by the tremen­dous Jo Freer) and ec­cen­tric old lady Joanna (per­formed with hi­lar­i­ous vigour by Bar­bara Raf­ferty).

De­spite its strong open­ing, the show (which runs to an un­nec­es­sar­ily long two-anda-half hours) over­stays its wel­come on Carys Hobbs and Becky Minto’s de­li­ciously gar­ish set. Partly this is due to a turn to more se­ri­ous sub­ject mat­ter (money, low pay, poor self­es­teem and bro­ken trust), but mainly it’s an is­sue of struc­ture.

A care­fully con­sid­ered cut of half an hour of ma­te­rial would, one sus­pects, en­able this fab­u­lously cast, of­ten up­roar­i­ously funny, some­times quite mov­ing mu­si­cal to pack a stronger dra­matic punch.

Ceilidh, the lat­est work from ris­ing Gaelic com­pany The­atre Gu Leor, isn’t so much a mu­si­cal as a play with songs (and live mu­sic, and po­etry, and sto­ry­telling). We, the au­di­ence, stand in for prospec­tive in­vestors in the du­bi­ous prop­erty com­pany Macleod Her­itage Devel­op­ment, which is seek­ing to mon­e­tise the glo­ries of Har­ris. As Lisa (played with con­vinc­ing com­mer­cial cyn­i­cism by Mairi Mor­ri­son) be­gins her pitch on the “in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties” of­fered by her Re­treat at Rodel, it turns out to be enough to raise a long dead poet. Cue Mairi Ruadh (the glo­ri­ously an­gry, warm and un­in­hib­ited Muire­ann Kelly) who breathes new life into the English speak­ers who are run­ning this mer­can­tile ceilidh. The mag­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of Lisa, her daugh­ter Eilidh (MJ Deans) and her friend, mu­si­cian Ed­die (Calum MacDon­ald) into Gaelic speak­ers is as in­ge­nious as it is laden with his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. As Gaelic be­comes the show’s lin­gua franca, trans­la­tions into English are pro­vided for non-Gaelic speak­ers on screens through­out the per­for­mance space.

Mairi Ruadh rages against Lisa’s merce­nary philis­tin­ism, fill­ing the room with a mus­cu­lar, earthy, un­tidy po­etry that is the an­tithe­sis of the clean-lined prop­erty brochure. In turn, Eilidh falls in love with the lan­guage of her fore­bears and Ed­die re­dis­cov­ers his faith in the mu­sic of the Gaid­heal­tachd as a liv­ing tra­di­tion.

Writ­ten by Ca­tri­ona Lexy Camp­bell and Mairi Sine Camp­bell, with dra­maturgy by Lynda Radley, Ceilidh is a clever and in­ven­tive piece of the­atre, built around an ex­cel­lent cen­tral per­for­mance by Kelly.

From a small-scale Gaelic mu­si­cal piece to a ma­jor pro­duc­tion of a big stage rock mu­si­cal. The sub­tleties of Ger­man play­wright Frank Wedekind’s late-19th cen­tury play of an­guished ado­les­cence

Spring Awak­en­ing may not seem par­tic­u­larly well-suited to the mu­si­cal the­atre genre. How­ever, that didn’t stop Steven Sater (book) and Dun­can Sheik (mu­sic) from launch­ing their ver­sion on Broad­way in 2006.

This pro­duc­tion for the Royal Con­ser­va­toire of Scot­land (RCS) and Dundee Rep (with a ver­sa­tile school set, which is beau­ti­fully de­signed and lit by Ken­neth MacLeod and Grant An­der­son) gives clear ex­pres­sion to the con­tra­dic­tions in the piece. De­spite the best ef­forts of mu­si­cal direc­tor Robert Wilkin­son and his fine band, Sheik’s score is at its sen­si­tive best when draw­ing upon the elu­sive po­ten­tial of the clas­si­cal mu­si­cal tra­di­tion.

Its guitar-led, pop mu­sic mo­ments, by painful con­trast, are akin to the sound made by one of those achingly bom­bas­tic Chris­tian rock groups that emerged in churches in the 1980s. De­spite such vul­gar­i­ties, the RCS’s mu­si­cal the­atre per­form­ers give a fine ac­count of them­selves, with Max Alexan­der-Tay­lor par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive as the young, hu­man­ist rebel Mel­chior Ga­bor, and Sarah Michelle Kelly com­pelling as his ill-fated girl­friend Wendla Bergman.

Rep direc­tor An­drew Pan­ton fash­ions a tight pro­duc­tion, while fine Rep En­sem­ble ac­tors Ann Louise Ross and Bar­rie Hunter deftly play the adults.

Pho­to­graph: Mi­haela Bodlovic

Jo Freer, Jane McCarry, Dar­ren Brown­lie, Louise McCarthy in Bingo!

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